By Allen Palmeri
JEFFERSON CITY—Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Director David Tolliver cast his church health vision Feb. 1-3 during Staff Advance in the Baptist Building and paid close attention as MBC staffers signaled varying degrees of ownership.
Tolliver, 59, who celebrated his birthday Feb. 2 and his one-year anniversary as MBC executive director Feb. 3, showed a Powerpoint that tied every staffer to the vision in one way or another. On Feb. 8, the same presentation was made to the Organizational Study Group, which is charged with doing research and eventually reporting back findings concerning the future of the MBC.
The vision statement calls for Missouri Baptists to be a people who are spiritually healthy Christians, coming together in healthy churches, going to an unhealthy world with the healing Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tolliver strongly indicated that he is tired of unregenerate church members in Missouri Baptist life. To counter this trend, which is visible in the large numbers of church members who are absent on Sunday, he plans on emphasizing “Lordship salvation.” He shared Romans 10:9, which teaches a conversion experience that is tied to confessing Jesus as Lord and believing that God has raised Him from the dead.
“I’m convinced that too often we’ve made it too easy to call yourself a Christian,” Tolliver said. “I’m just as convinced that that’s not Biblical.”
Simply marking baptisms won’t be sufficient, Tolliver said. Making disciples must be just as high a priority.
Teaching on the Holy Spirit will also be helpful, he said. Missouri Baptists must not cede this ground to the charismatics. Right now, Spirit-filled believers are at the heart of the MBC church health vision.
“I believe in miraculous signs and wonders,” he said. “I also believe this: The best evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian is the fruit of the Spirit in the life of a Christian. There’s not a Christian out there who cannot display the fruit of the Spirit because they have the Spirit living in them.”
Tolliver said one of the more controversial statements he has made since becoming executive director has been that when a church is healthy, the community where the church is located will be healthy as well.
“When the Great Awakening occurred, people were changed by the Gospel and Christians were rededicated, they had to close the bars down,” he said. “People changed their behavior because they changed their lifestyle because they changed their character because they changed their conscience. I’m convinced that for our churches to be genuinely effective, we’re going to have to see a difference in our communities. What I don’t know yet is exactly how to make that happen.”
He also wants to elevate the awareness of church discipline in the MBC as a means toward improved church health. Because the local church struggles with how to do this in a redemptive manner, many local congregations tend to be sickly, he said.
“Genuine fellowship involves accountability,” Tolliver said. “That’s what discipline is about.”
On Feb. 1, he asked staffers where church discipline might be in the MBC organizational structure. Ministerial Services was viewed as a potential fit. On Feb. 3 Tolliver announced he was appointing a task force on the issue consisting of several MBC staffers, to be facilitated by MBC Associate Executive Director Jerry Field.
“I want us to look at that, because most of our churches don’t have any idea of how to properly, Biblically apply discipline,” Tolliver said.
In general, Tolliver challenged the staff not to burrow on down into the warm and familiar earth that typically smells of denominational success. Rather he would like them to fix their gaze on such shining things as the Holy Spirit, prayer, and the Kingdom.
Numbers are “not a great measure” and can be “easily manipulated,” he said.